Ex-England international Freddie Burns has given a hilarious account of his early weeks in Japan, reflecting on quarantine, his first impressions during training for Shuttles, and getting blown out of it by a big Tongan in his first match last weekend.    

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Out of favour at Stuart Hooper’s Bath, Burns unveiled a one-year deal last May that will see him play in the Japanese second-tier league in 2021 and his Far East adventure so far has had numerous eye-opening moments, none more amusing than his frustration that his new teammates were apparently calling him Harry instead of Freddie.

Burns, whose younger brother Billy made his Ireland debut last Friday, arrived last month in Japan and has quickly thrown himself into the swing of things in a place called Kariya which is near Nagoya, the country’s fourth-largest city. On arrival, he had to quarantine for 14 days but he is now getting up to speed with his new team at training.

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Appearing on the latest episode of The Rugby Pod, he told Andy Goode: “Quarantine was what it was, it was a bit tough but I was allowed out to go and get food every day so I went to the supermarket and I sort of took the long way around on my pushbike. 

“It was tough but it was part of it and after having seven months off where I was stuck in the UK I was happy to be out here and on the countdown to getting back into a bit of ruggers. 

“For the first two weeks of training, I thought I was coming in one of the capped (star) players. I’m on the ball and all these boys outside me are going ‘Harry, Harry’. I’m going my name is Freddy mate. I catch the ball again and they are like ‘Harry, Harry’. I’m like mate what the f*** is going on?

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“I spoke to Tusi Pisi who is going, oh no mate, they are asking for the ball early. Literally, for the first two training sessions, I thought I was coming here as a big guy and they are calling me ‘Harry’. I was sort of smiling and nodding and apparently they just wanted the ball early. I’ve just started shifting it on earlier now.”

Known for his off-the-cuff style of play, Burns has yet to unveil his full array of tricks while he settles into rugby life in Japan. “No chips and chases just yet. I’m just trying to find my feet. You have got to walk before you can run,” he explained. 

“It’s hard. You know what it is like as a No10, you just want to turn around to someone and say I’ll bounce out or come at the line with me, but you can’t have those real quick conversations. You have to wait for the translator to come on and then everything is more long-winded. It’s definitely teaching me patience but it’s part of the challenge that I knew was going to have here when I signed. It’s tough but all good fun.”

Burns made his debut at the weekend against Toyota Verblitz and was quickly given an unceremonious welcome to Japan. “The No9 got caught and I went to secure him. We played Toyota Verblitz which finished in the top four last year. It’s like Willie le Roux’s team and Kieran Read is going to be here and I think (Michael) Hooper has signed as well. 

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“I’d been on for just five minutes and was just sealing over and one of the Japanese boys was trying to say something to me and I didn’t know what it is. He slaps me on the back sort of. I looked back at him and, of course, as soon as I looked back their massive Tongan No8 had seen I had done that and just counter-rucked me. 

“Next thing I know I’m back on my arse, they pick up the ball and it goes 80 metres downfield, it goes out and I’m thinking oh for f***’s sake. Like it’s no cakewalk. It’s a bonkers place. There are only 15 professionals on my team, the rest train, then they go and work for the company and come back and we train a bit later in the day. 

“It’s a weird dynamic but the standard and the attitude is very professional from the boys. We’re a team that knows we are not the best and we’re trying to change that and push on. Hopefully, as my language gets better, I can start having more of an influence but it calls for a bit of patience at the moment. 

“We only lost by two tries at the end. We scored none when I came on because they were calling me ‘Harry’ again. But I’ll tell you what, the boys are going well and the season doesn’t start until January,” he said, going on to describe what his days are currently like.   

“No (I don’t go and do a shift in the factory). I just take the free lunch and go home,” he quipped. “At the minute I train from probably eight until ten, then I go home and then I’m back in at 3.45pm for a meeting and a rugby session.”

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